Coaches think Gauchos no better than sixth

Following its second consecutive season over .500, the UCSB baseball team was selected to finish sixth in the Big West coaches preseason poll, the conference announced on Tuesday. The poll was chosen by the nine head coaches in the Big West.
Bob Brontsema’s Gauchos, who went 29-23 last season, return 19 letterwinners and welcome a top-notch recruiting class for 2010. Combined with the team’s 2008 finish (35-21), the Gauchos open 2010 having won the second-most games in consecutive seasons under Brontsema’s tenure.
Among the returning letterwinners are second baseman Matt Valaika and left-handed pitcher Mario Hollands. Both were selected in Major League Baseball’s June amateur draft, but returned to UCSB.
Valaika led the team in batting average (.343) and slugging percentage (.545) last season as he was a Big West Honorable Mention pick. The Valencia native was selected in the 20th round by the Cincinnati Reds after racking up 16 doubles and 45 RBI – both second on the team – as well as six home runs and 40 runs scored.
Hollands, who is slated to be the Gauchos’ Friday starter, went 6-6 with a 4.74 ERA last season, leading UCSB in innings pitched and finishing second in wins, ERA and strikeouts. The El Cerrito native was picked in the 24th round by the Minnesota Twins, but will return for his junior year.
Also returning are 2008 All-American right-handed pitcher Mike Ford, Big West Honorable Mention catcher Marty Mullins, leadoff hitter Gunnar Terhune and 2009 saves leader David Meals.
Leading a talented group of 14 newcomers is left-handed pitcher Kevin Gelinas, a transfer from Central Arizona Junior College. Gelinas was recently rated as the top prospect in the summer California Collegiate League by Baseball America.
The Gauchos open their season on Feb. 23 vs. Westmont and will feature home games against UCLA (Mar. 23), Big West preseason poll top pick Cal State Fullerton (Apr. 16-18), USC (Apr. 27) and UC Riverside (Apr. 30-May 2).
2010 Big West Coaches Poll Results
1. Cal State Fullerton (7) – 79
2. UC Irvine (2) – 71
3. Cal Poly – 60
4. Long Beach State – 50
5. UC Riverside – 48
6. UC Santa Barbara – 36
7. Pacific – 30
8. Cal State Northridge – 19
9. UC Davis – 12
( ) First-place vote